When Beverley Dowling was just three nurturing a month-old kitten set her path for a lifetime of love and caring for animals and supporting her community.
More than 50 years later, the self-titled “feral cat lady” is packing up her cages, dismantling the outdoor runs, and preparing a move to Whangārei to help the local council manage feral and abandoned cats.
Beverley is well-known in the Kāpiti and Horowhenua districts for her years of dedication to the welfare and care of injured wildlife, and forgotten domestic and wild cats.
“At one point I had my three, another five and 23 in the house: three mums and all their kittens,” she says. “Two of those mums were sisters that hadn’t been desexed. One had a litter of nine and the other a litter of seven.”
Beverley has recently been passing on cat crates to worthy recipients around the community as she prepares to head north in early September.
Her rural Waikawa Beach property is a sprawling oasis, providing respite and sanctuary to kittens and cats that have been abandoned, neglected or simply thrown on the roadside.
Her property boasts safe outdoor runs, complete with warm bedrooms and play areas, and a cat hospital that has assisted in the recovery of countless abandoned animals over the years. Her house also has a room for mothers and kittens to recover after desexing.
Beverley is a community champion, but she acknowledges it’s not a sole effort, but one of working with many others, including Forgotten Felines.
“It always takes a team of dedicated people to rescue, treat and rehabilitate. Everyone focuses on the trapping but not the ‘what next?’. Foster carers are the backbone of any rescue group and there are never enough people available to open their home and hearts to cats that deserve a second chance.”
The wild cat population at Ōtaki and Otaihanga rubbish tips can get out of control. At Otaihanga, cat management is supported by tip staff and volunteers under the TNR (trap, neuter, return) programme, which has been shown to be very successful in post-earthquake Christchurch.
“Some are too unwell to return,” Beverley says. “I had three that we named Wink, Blink and Nod, because we thought they would all lose an eye due to such poor health. We often have to make a decision to euthanise if there are critical health issues. Many are adopted into loving families.”
Looking after stray animals and making sure they have a happy future has been a voluntary passion, but her appointment at Whangārei District Council will see her now remunerated for something she deeply cares about.
“The biggest issues for councils to deal with beyond nuisance behaviour and feral colonies, is cats that have not been desexed,” Beverley says.
“Covid precautions saw an explosion in cat birth rates, as vets weren’t able to carry out desexing procedures. While we were in lockdown, cats were still getting it on!”
The draft national cat management strategy is already being embraced by some councils, many introducing mandatory snip and chip.
Beverley notes there has also been less funding for cat rescue organisations that haven’t been able to cope as breeding rates have skyrocketed during the Covid period.
“Cat rescues are worn-out financially, and fatigued,” she says. “It can cost us $200 for speying and tests for feline immunodeficiency virus and leukemia virus, which is contagious so these cats are not released back into a colony.”
She says it’s easy and affordable for the public to get cats desexed and chipped, with regular discount campaigns to help those struggling.
“My hope is that everyone takes responsibility for ownership of their pets.”
Beverley is also involved with Ōtaki Players, managing the props for the current Priscilla show at Southward’s theatre.
“It’s all a bit bonkers around here, trying to pack up, help with the [Priscilla] show, deliver the cat crates to new homes, picking up and dropping off cats, dealing with vets, and sell my house,” she says. “It seems like a very typical day!”